Welcome everyone to the final installment in my three part series covering what I view are the main issues with the Batman franchise and what we can do about them. For the past two entries, I have been going on about the problems (if you need to catch up, you can check them out here and here), but that is all said and done with. Now it is time to show my hand and reveal my plan. So without further ado, here is how we put Batman back on track.
First things first, and this might be the hardest to hear for some, but we have to put the Bat on a budget. That’s right, we’re cutting up Bruce’s credit cards, but for a very good reason.
As I said in the last part, to keep up with the times we keep making Bruce Wayne richer and richer, but we’ve pushed it so far that the whole Batman thing he’s doing is a selfish act. The Bruce Wayne of today (and by extension Wayne Enterprises) has enough money to rebuild and redevelop all of Gotham and give everyone there who needs one a job, but he dumps untold billions into hanging out on rooftops in his pointy-eared suit waiting to go and punch some random mugger. Things have gotten totally out of proportion.
If you don’t think the above is enough reason, let me add that that Bruce’s no-limit cash flow has hurt the book creatively as well. A key component of the character has always been his intelligence and tactical mind, by having to make hard choices about what he takes into battle and having to think on his feet and improvise with his gear leads to way more interesting story options than having just the right gizmo/vehicle all the time.
I’m cool with Bruce being rich, I’m cool with him being crazy rich, hell, I’m even cool with him being crazy stupid rich, but when he makes the rest of the 1% look like paupers perhaps we have gone a wee bit too far.
Moving away from the money thing, let’s take a moment to talk about the man himself. Bruce Wayne is not and should not be the best at everything, world class sure, but not the best. Lady Shiva IS a better fighter, Dick IS more acrobatic, and Tim IS a greater natural detective. All this can be true (and is) without diminishing Bruce. What makes Batman special is that he is talented in in so many disciplines not that he is the greatest in any of them. It is his versatility and adaptability that make the Batman who he is. Exploring this not only can help add a sense of tension as Batman goes into a dangerous situation, but it gives the writers a chance to think outside of the box and have Bruce use his other skills to try and compensate and find a way to win. Need proof, look no further than the success of the CW series, Arrow. The Green Arrow character has always had much in common with Batman, and this TV show is no exception as it heavily pulls from the Batman mythos, so much so that some consider it a Green Arrow show in little but name only. What made the show work, despite all the comparisons to the Batman property, is that they were able to get the audience to invest in their protagonist. As talented as Ollie is at what he does in the series, he isn’t perfect and he makes mistakes all the time. It humanizes the character and provides needed depth. Batman should take a page from Green Arrow for once, so let’s inject a little man back into the Bat.
Another thing that we need to address are Batman’s villains. We have pushed the deification of Batman so far that his rouges gallery has either had to follow suit to stay relevant or became little more than walking, talking punchlines.
The most obvious example of this push is in the case of the Joker. At this point, the Joker isn’t so much a man as DC’s personification of death and destruction. His every contact with Batman having to be some multi-part epic with the entire city (or sometimes world and even universe) as well as the Batman’s own sanity at risk. I remember the good old days where the Joker was just a crazed clown who killed and robbed people. Make no mistake, I enjoy those big psychological yarns about the very nature of order and chaos and how Laughing Boy and Batsy complete each other as much as the next guy, but that isn’t the ONLY story you can tell with these characters. With this needless drive to have every encounter bigger than the last these confrontations have become a parody unto themselves. How about a story where the Joker goes on a tear through Gotham killing and robbing as he sees fit with no overarching plan or need to prove something to Batman. He’s simply on a rampage because he’s the Joker and he feels like it. Doesn’t that sound delightfully refreshing?
On the flip side of things we have my favorite Bat villain:
That’s right folks, I’m a loud and proud Penguin fan and this poor sap has been getting mismanaged for years. The Penguin as he stands today is little more than a higher up thug that Batman occasionally roughs up looking for information and this is one sad state of affairs.
The Penguin of the comics when you take the time to look at him is truly unique from all of Batman’s other main bad guys. While Cobblepot has serious issues, he is mentally stable (hence the reason when he gets busted they send him to Blackgate instead of Arkham) and is the only Batman baddie that has serious cred as a leader with organized crime and the super-villain world. Hiding behind his declaration of reform that everyone knows is a lie, and with a legion of attack lawyers chomping at the bit, the Penguin acts as a liaison and information broker from the comfort of his nightclub, The Iceberg Lounge, for both sides of Gotham’s criminal coin. He has his hands in everyone’s pocket all the while laughing in Batman’s face. The Penguin is the purest symbol of the corruption, bureaucracy, and greed that eats at the heart of Gotham. Oh, and here’s the kicker. In many interpretations he’s a skilled fighter, and when push comes to shove, can even be a serious physical threat to Batman. He’s the Kingpin of Gotham, plain and simple.
My point in all this isn’t just to talk about how cool the Penguin is when handled correctly (although, that is a nice bonus), but to point out how we can take some of Batman’s lesser known and/or lesser used foes and with a little TLC use them to take Batman in fresh and exciting directions.
Finally, I want to talk about the city of Gotham itself. It is a dirty, corrupt, crime ridden city, but is has to be more than that. What I mean to say we have to have a sense that there is something in Gotham worth saving, that despite all the nastiness there is art, culture, and honest people people trying to do the best they can. Some writers treat Gotham like it’s some bombed out warzone inhabited only by the lost and damned, where everything is on the verge of falling apart. We need a sense of just who it is Bruce is fighting for, that even though he’ll never fully win, his sacrifices will at least mean something. While certainly ever surrounded by crime and violence, it’s important to show that Gotham is something worth fighting for. A little light accents the dark and it makes things all the more dramatic and compelling when the monster creep out of the shadows to prey upon the innocent.
These steps are by no means the the only thing that could or should be done. The ideas I’ve laid out here are only rudimentary building blocks that can be taken by hands infinitely more creative than mine and forged into something great. This is what I would try do to protect and grow one of the great modern American legends. Feel free to add on or dispute anything I’ve said here. Intelligent debate breeds creative thought and with more creative thought generated on the subject, the higher chance DC will take action. Batman definitely has issues, but he is far from broken and we want to keep him that way.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at Batman over that last few weeks. This has been one of the biggest and most in depth thing I’ve gotten to do on the site and I’ve been so happy to see that it so far has been positively received. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a well deserved Bat-break.